King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard’s hyper-productive output has become the stuff of legend. Since 2012, the Melbourne, Australia-based seven-piece have released a staggering 23 studio albums, 14 live albums and numerous EPs and compilations. In 2017 alone they released five full-length studio albums. Along with other novel release strategies, highlighted by the egalitarian idea of encouraging fans and labels to make and sell their own copies of 2017’s Polygondwanaland, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard have developed a reputation for relentless production that threatens to overshadow their actual craft.
Critical reaction to some of the band’s recent work would suggest that the quality of their work has waned somewhat in recent years. Prior to 2020, with pretty much every album King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard hopped onto a different musical tangent, ranging from garage rock to folk to thrash metal. What made them so compelling, however, is that each diversion always felt like a natural shift. The band’s personality was always strong enough to create a throughline that navigated the boldest left-turns. Recent excursions, such as the major-label debuts K.G. and L.W. and the colossal Omnium Gatherum have lacked the internal focus of earlier experiments. Within their sprawling runtimes, these opuses flicker too manically between innumerable styles, careening through disparate tangents with all the elegance of a car crash.
Of this recent bunch, 2020’s Butterfly 3000 is the clear highlight. Defined by both its affable disposition and compositional focus, its influence on the three albums released by King Gizzard in the past month month (Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava, Laminated Denim and Changes) is palpable. Previously explored on 2015’s Paper Mâché Dream Balloon and 2019’s Fishing For Fishies, this whimsical, sunny tone feels like the place where King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are most comfortable. Their attempts at, for example, thrash metal have always felt a little toothless. Their best works exist in this bright, giddy and trippy world, defined by colorful imagination, upbeat jams and gentle but adroit lyrics concerned with the environment and ecology.
These three latest albums function as a compelling reset for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Not only do they play to the band’s aesthetic strengths, each one, like Butterfly 3000, is organized around an intriguing compositional motif. There’s a sense of a return to form here, arising from the air of focus that the band’s imposition of rules upon themselves has granted. While not the ideal place to start for newcomers, this sort-of-trilogy is a welcome re-immersion into the band’s singular universe.
First up is Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava. Of the bunch, these seven tracks are the most expansive and versatile. The central conceit here is that each track follows one of the seven Greek musical modes, which corresponds with the first letters of each word in the album’s title eg. ice – ionian, death – dorian etc. The tracks (which confusingly don’t share titles with those in the album title) were pieced together from extensive jam sessions. Despite this seemingly unwieldy nature (several tracks exceed ten minutes in length), the album is remarkably light on its feet and accessible. Highlights include the percussion-heavy “Lava”, the jazz-funk/prog mania of “Hell’s Itch” and the groovy solos of closer “Gliese 710.” The modal nature provides each track an internal logic and its repetitious instrumentation and fluid nature gives the whole thing a sense of coherence amidst the indulgence. This is King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard throwing everything at the wall and most of it sticking.
Laminated Denim is, in some ways, the inverse of its predecessor. While also constructed from jam sessions, these two 15-minute tracks are defined by their stark, motorik linearity, miles away from the spiraling flights of fancy taken on Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms and Lava. Here, the two tracks are both organized around the ticking of a clock, making it a spiritual successor to 2019’s Made In Timeland (of which Laminated Denim is an anagram). Though both built on protracted, unspooling musical ideas, the sense of patience and simplicity here makes for a stark contrast to its predecessor. “The Land Before Timeland” is especially great, following a gentle rhythm and simple guitar lines that weave in and out of one another. “Hypertension” is more full-bodied but less engaging of the two, resorting to familiar guitar histrionics in its latter stages. The first half of Laminated Denim, however, shows King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard at their minimalist best.
Whereas its two predecessors were both oppositional variations of jam sessions recorded in the space of just a week, Changes is the supposedly the most tinkered-with King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard album. Featuring some tracks originally recorded in 2017, again, there’s a core motif around which the seven tracks are built. This time it’s that each track is constructed atop a single chord progression, upon which the band venture down endless differing corridors and winding hallways. This idea has the potential to become a touch prosaic, however the band deploy an array of keyboard-driven funk and effervescent R&B textures to ensure that Changes remains eclectic and approachable. One or two tracks feel a bit under-cooked (“No Body”, “Exploding Suns”), however when it works (highlighted by the delightful “Astroturf”), Changes is an enormously-fun collection.